“Taking medicine and going to therapy doesn’t actually fix anything,” April boldly stated. Our mutual friends, Sound and JaK, lounged on the couch across from her and I subconsciously busied myself with with biting the excess skin from my fingers. We were at Prosper’s mansion, in the living room with the home theatre, watching Wish play a Pokémon game on the console. It was to be a chill night, me on my laptop, the tide of conversation ebbing and flowing naturally. But that wasn’t on April’s agenda, apparently. “Any medicine is just going to blunt your creativity and turn you into a zombie.”
This was bait. I knew it was bait, and that I should just keep my mouth shut. April and I had a recent argument about how she may have Histrionic Personality disorder, and how it may benefit her to seek help for it. April took it about as well as expected; with a notebook hurled at my head. I’d gotten quite good at ducking. “I’ve known people who have benefited from psych meds,” I offered, my sense of self-preservation apparently taking a smoke break. “It’s not as if it’s like a lobotomy—”
“Yes, it is.” April had a tone that suggested that no further explanation was needed.
Sound frowned. JaK had been struggling, lately. Recovering from 1,000 years of trauma or so could do that. Having fiery powers that could be triggered by high emotion could also mean an explosive time.
I remember Sound texting me about feeling awkward that Katy Perry’s ‘Firework’ came on during a date night and I about lost it.
“JaK and I have been discussing that option for him, though,” Sound said to April. “Sometimes, he just can’t calm down and I don’t know what I can do to help. We’ve been looking into it with Cecil, our psycho-therapist.”
April shrugged. “If you’re done working on yourself and just want to throw pills at your husband to get him to behave, then go for it. See if I care.”
I sighed. Sound stiffened visibly, lost for words. JaK continued to play with his spouse’s hair as if he hadn’t heard April at all.
The moment of pregnant silence lasted too long. April threw her pencil down at her sketchbook and something in my gut curl into a knot. “And of course, I’m on a soapbox because no one’s responding to me. Fucking great.”
She, in typical fashion, stormed out of the room, ending the conversation but definitely not her argument.
~Later in the week~
“Wait, wait, slow down. What do mean the pills made him robotic?” It had been literally days since that spectacle in Sound’s living room. “Pills aren’t a lobotomy, Sound. They don’t actually work like that, outside of like… movie montages.”
I pulled my phone away and glanced at the time. Seven in the morning. I’d only gotten two hours of sleep. Sound had apologized for waking me, at some earlier, hazy part of the call.
“Well, I thought so too. But then we talked to Cecil and he started saying all this stuff to me like, ‘Oh, well, if you’re really giving up on him, I guess I can do that if it makes you comfortable. You seem unable to handle this, you won’t listen to your husband, so I guess we have to medicate him because you’re tired of dealing with him.’”
I’d already started my kettle. It was going to be a long morning. “Cecil said that? Your therapist? The bloke with a Doctorate’s degree in psychology, chemistry, and—you know, breathing, probably.” I wasn’t close to Cecil. Sometimes I liked him, and sometimes he came off as an arrogant prick. But he wasn’t an idiot.
“Yeah! That’s what he said.”
“Sound, that doesn’t make sense for him to say that.”
“He did!” Something in Sound’s voice made me pause. It was such a strained desperation that absolutely witnessed the world turning against all logic just to spite one person. “He prescribed the pills and JaK just completely— like, I ask if he wants to kiss me and he just tonelessly says, ‘If that is what you wish’, and there’s just nothing in the kisses. They feel so empty. And his eyes are dull. Even if I ask him what he wants for lunch, he’s just all like, ‘What ever you want to do.’” Sound sighed shakily, “I made a huge mistake. I don’t want him to just be a servant to me. I feel awful…I try to listen better, but every time he yells, it’s like my brain stops working! But April said she knew the pills would do this. She tried to warn me but I didn’t listen to her, either!”
“April doesn’t know how to use Google.” Exasperated laughter crept into my voice. I was just so tired. “Psych meds don’t even work this fast. They take two or three weeks to do anything.”
Sound paused. “Then why is he—”
That’s when I heard yelling in the background, from someone who apparently decided to drop the emotionless shtick. I switched my mobile to speakerphone, pouring steaming water over a bag of Irish Breakfast. “I didn’t realize I was on speakerphone. Good morning to you too, JaK. Or, it’d be afternoon there, yes?”
“Fuck you!” JaK’s Austrian accent was usually thicker when he was angry. “No, fuck you, you’re not the expert on everything! Sound, Xanthe’s not always right about everything!” I remember pausing with my teacup to my lips. That Austrian accent had shifted to distinctly American. The furious rhythm that seemed to build itself up as the sentences went on, a familiar biting sort of talking. “This is how they treat their own partner! They’re not ever willing to listen to April or just treat her like a partner, they’d rather pretend that everything is a disorder to get April to behave! Just like you’re doing to me!”
He sounds like [April,] I realized. “Yeah, JaK, it’s a conspiracy. The timeline for mood stabilizers was created specifically for me to win this argument. Did [April] tell you to do this? You’re scaring your spouse.”
“Is this what you wanted, Sound?! For me to just behave like I’m your slave? Is this what you wanted? Maybe I just shouldn’t be around anymore, then you wouldn’t be so burdened by my—”
“Tantrums!” I could could hear Sound crying in the background. I didn’t quite know why JaK sounded as if he had April’s American accent instead of his own, but it grated on my subconscious in a way that made this ill-advised declaration urgent and inevitable. “Toddler-esque, entitled, manipulative, abusive tantrums. I see them enough to know them.”
Looking back, I should have sensed this would not have ended on a cathartic note. I shouldn’t have been so comfortable with the time-zones of distance between the person I insisted on antagonizing.
JaK was a bount. Bounts were genetic oddities, an odd sort of elemental vampire, created by alchemists in ancient times.
Bounts could teleport.
I actually heard the heat before I saw it. It was like the sound of expensive fabric tearing. I ducked down instinctively. I raised one hand for defense and the other kept my teacup steady.
A wall of flame rose before me, but that was okay. See, I wasn’t just a mortal who would occasionally end up in my inworld, stumbling past the Anne Rice-esque cast. In my inworld, I could steal and manipulate souls.
It was a grueling, costly process. I would receive a long flashback of the victim’s life in the blink of an eye, there’s great risk to me, and I need to be making eye-contact with them.
But at the end of it, I have these neat colourful trinkets in an orb that I can use as macabre décor or highly immoral trading.
When souls had been removed from their bodies, they developed a sort of glass-like cocoon around them; a reaction to matter of the soul meeting air. I kept at least one soul on me, so that I could use this odd chemical interaction to shield myself. It didn’t work long, but always bought me some time. A colourful orb arced between the two of us–The result was a curved plate of soul-glass, iridescent and rippling. But the effect was all-too temporary.
The glass wall shattered. Another whooshing sound and the flames twirled around JaK like a cloak and finally dispersed.
JaK looked a perfect picture in my small foyer. Hands curled into fists at his side, shaking, magenta eyes wild with rage. I might have been more intimidated if JaK’s aesthetic wasn’t always reminiscent of a Visual Kei popstar dipped in bleach.
Vex stood just behind him, her hand splayed while quelling the inferno.
It was Vex’s voice that cut the tension. “Don’t you dare ever try to harm my child again, you defective Roman candle.” Her voice was an icy salve on the diminished blaze. “If you do, I will unwind your unstable genetic code until you’re nothing more than sulfur and excuses.”
I sipped my tea. “I think that could be racist, Vex.”
My remote doorbell rang, filling the room with a shrill rendition of Für Elise to signal that someone at the inn needed the live-in attendant. The Last Airbender-like scene of confrontation was concealed like someone had clicked off that layer of a Photoshop project.
I was in the same position, but Vex and JaK were seemingly gone. It wasn’t as if they had vanished completely– they were still there, like a chat in another tab. I looked quickly to see if there were any scorch marks on the ceiling, pulled my robe on, and hurriedly walked out to see which guest had locked themselves out this time.
I write this as a snapshot, an example, of what my inworld life was becoming as my relationship with April was disintegrating. That wasn’t the only instance of a “WereApril”, or one of our friends seeming to transform into her ideology at a moment’s notice.
My inworld confrontations were becoming more pointed, more violent. It was to the point where I could expect one every time April and I ever disagreed with something. Every day was like walking on eggshells if the eggshells were also on fire.
I wasn’t the only who noticed this trend– that every catastrophe seemed based around whatever April was upset about. Aberle and Nox had both been polyam-shamed recently. Andrew, Demetri’s son, was singling me out for a misstep so often that I was often getting by on his apology fruit baskets. Oddly enough, I would ask him about it– and he wouldn’t remember the encounter. JaK didn’t. Neither did Prosper, once when he lost his shit at Aberle. It was bizarre.
Aberle and I began to have weekly walks, just outside of anyone else’s earshot. house. Comparing notes on the instances of our friends seeming to speak from the point of view of April, dropping all pretenses of identity just to verbally degrade me or anyone that had the same thought as me.
Not only this, but it seemed like our conversations we’d have with some people wouldn’t remain private. A session between Calisto and Cecil would have lines spat back to him by Romeo. Aberle venting to Alexander about my predicaments with April led to April texting me, knowing much more than she should, mere hours later. The walls had ears, to an absurd extreme.
And it didn’t make any sense to us. It wasn’t as if decent people actually took private information and just spread it all about willy-nilly.
Aberle and I called this ‘The effect.’
Four years later, it would be called the ‘Gaslamp Effect.’
It would transform in cause, in people involved. But it means– meant, the same thing. That the world seemed against us and April’s twisted ideals seemed right in the middle of it.
Quick note by Xhaxhollari:
There was no voice involved whenever our system talked. It was all facilitated through text. It’s my theory that Xanthe simply caught the change in tone and general demeanor, and the voices in the inworld shifted accents to reflect what it subconsciously suspected. Also, upon reading this, I can’t help but notice that Xanthe checked to see if their foyer ceiling was alright before they checked if they themself had been burned.
Keeping you alive is a group project, Zeity. I don’t know why we didn’t catch on sooner.